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So Much for the Goodwill, Wilson says of Teacher Talks

(Queen's Park Report - August 21, 2012) With only a few weeks from the start of the school year, Ontario is facing a potential for chaos in its classrooms because of Dalton McGuinty’s failure to act months ago to rein in public sector wages and control the size and cost of government.

The Liberals could have dealt with wages in their March budget, but they refused.  They also could have supported the Comprehensive Public Sector Compensation & Wage Freeze Act that was put forward by my Progressive Conservative colleague Jeff Yurek in May, but they didn’t.  

Now at the eleventh hour, Mr. McGuinty’s government is in a real pickle.  Wages for teachers will go up by more than 5 percent on September 1 which will devastate the provincial budget if they don’t get legislation passed to stop it.

So much for all of the so-called goodwill he built up with teachers unions.

The deal itself seems terrible.  Why would any employer insert a clause for an automatic wage increase upon expiry?  What incentive is there to negotiate when a pricey increase is already built-into the contract?   That alone speaks to the Liberals wildly unsuccessful management strategy.

The only path to fix the mess now is to recall the Legislature, which he’s done.

The question is whether we’re going to play this silly game for the other 3,999 collective agreements that are set to expire in Ontario, or are we going to finally do something about wages across the board once and for all.

Everybody knows Ontario is in a tough spot.  We’re spiralling towards a $30 billion annual deficit and we’ve got 600,000 Ontarians out of work.  The debt has also doubled under Mr. McGuinty – a feat that no other premier has achieved and one that makes Bob Rae look pretty good by comparison.

At a time when over a half a million people in the private sector aren’t even getting a pay cheque anymore, and other middle class families haven’t received a raise in years, it becomes very difficult for them to pay the growing public sector tab.  

You can only buy as much government as you can afford.  

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Ontario’s public sector workers earn 27 percent more than their private sector counterparts.  In the transit industry that’s $10,600 more a year and for health care workers it’s $6,400 more a year.

Make no mistake about it, Mr. McGuinty dug this hole.  Wage settlements under his watch have been one and-a-half times more generous than under any other government.  Between 2004 and 2009 they grew by a collective 18.8%.
A legislated, mandatory and across the board wage freeze would rein in this spending and save up to $2 billion over two years – money that is badly needed to ensure that the services we need and value aren’t put at risk tomorrow.

Mr. McGuinty’s piecemeal way of freezing wages isn’t working.  It’s pure baloney.  We thought he had successfully frozen non-unionized wages, until we learned that he gave 98% of public sector manager’s hefty bonuses each year instead.

There is a better way, and it involves an across the board public sector wage freeze that is enshrined in legislation that eliminates bonuses and other trickery and treats everyone equally.   It’s what they’re doing in other jurisdictions, and it’s what we should do in Ontario too.

Then we could get on with the even bigger task of growing the economy and creating jobs. 

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